DemocracyNext

Update: demnext.org now has a video of the launch event. There is also a link to an article by Hélène Landemore and Claudia Chwalisz offering sortition as an alternative to the way that the failed Chilean constitutional proposal was generated (and a tweet-thread with a summary in English.)

DemocracyNext is a new organization featuring a “Who’s Who” of the sortition circles. DemocracyNext‘s press release announcing its launch is here. Some excerpts:

DemocracyNext, a new non-profit, non-partisan research and action institute, which announces its foundation this International Democracy Day, 15 September 2022 – aims to actively help this new democratic paradigm take shape and take hold.

“We believe that another democratic future is possible. We want to design and build new institutions where citizens can hold real decision making power,” said Claudia Chwalisz, chief executive of DemocracyNext. “Our point of departure is that the current electoral system is broken beyond repair. An entirely new framework must be based on full participation, citizen representation by lot, and real deliberation.”
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Landemore: No Decarbonization Without Democratization

Hélène Landemore writes in Project Syndicate:

The planet is burning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s warnings about the consequences of rising temperatures are becoming increasingly dire. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set off a race in Europe and elsewhere to achieve energy independence through rapid transformations of the economy.

With decarbonization becoming such an urgent priority, it is tempting to consider political shortcuts. Why not try enlightened despotism or “epistocracy” (rule by experts), picking the best climate scientists and engineers and empowering them to make the decisions for us? Why not embrace the Chinese method of forcing through sweeping changes and swatting away any misguided resistance from below?

This opening has at least three standard features of Western elite political discourse. First, it puts climate change front and center – a problem that is widely recognized in elite circles not only as an issue that should be at the top of the governance agenda, but also one where the elite, duly concerned about the upcoming catastrophe, find themselves at the forefront of moral thought, desperately trying to lead a reluctant, obtuse public. The single issue of climate change is the only issue that matters in the article and other issues, issues that affect the public at large but are of no concern to the elite (most urgently recently, for example, the rising costs of energy, but many perennial issues as well), are considered only to the extent that they bear on the issue of climate change.
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Petaluma (California) Assembly Update

The Petaluma Citizens’ Assembly (CA) concluded its deliberations into the contentious city fairgrounds issue last week and presented its recommendations to the Petaluma City Council and to the 4th District Agricultural Association (the state board currently administering the fair). The board’s 50 year lease to run the fairgrounds property ends in 2023 and the Council and the Board could not agree on new terms going forward. The 55 acre parcel is owned by the city.

The assembly panelists met for over 80 hours over several weekends, hearing from experts and stakeholders, and engaging in a facilitated deliberative process moderated by Healthy Democracy. They were tasked by the city to answer the question: “How might we use the city’s fairground property to create the experiences, activities, resources, and places that our community needs and desires now and for the foreseeable future?”

The CA’s report, written entirely by the panelists, delineated the values, options, and visions that the panel had identified for the fairgrounds, and is accessible on the Healthy Democracy website. The panel process reflected the promise of deliberative democracy—to stand apart from traditional back room, political horse trading and instead focus on evidence and collaborative problem solving that places the community at the center.

The principal effect of the assembly’s work may not be apparent for several months, when the city has to decide on a course of action. The assembly’s effect won’t be measured by how creative, startling, or beautiful the eventual solution is. It will be measured by whether or not the city and the state board can come to an amicable resolution that permits them to move beyond their current deadlock. It’s already clear to the city council and the state board that the panelists are modeling a novel, structured, “yes, and” rather than “yes, but” process to solving problems, an approach outside usual political paradigms involving debate, power, conflict, and authority.

Moreover the assembly table incorporates a richness of lived experience unavailable in elected or appointed bodies, enabling panelists to think deeply about the complexity of the city and its issues. Will this example catalyze the governmental bodies to set aside politics and find common ground founded in the collective wisdom of everyday people from all walks who listen to each other?

Based on the example of past assemblies, we may hope. Stay tuned.

Rangoni and Vandamme: Is deliberative democracy a hopeless ideal?

“Is deliberative democracy a hopeless ideal?” is the title of a recent books review by Sacha Rangoni and Piere-Étienne Vandamme on the Social Europe website. The review deals with three books discussing “deliberative democracy”:

  • Le tournant délibératif de la démocratie, Loïc Blondiaux and Bernard Manin (eds), Sciences Po, 2021,
  • Deliberative Democracy, Ian O’Flynn, Polity Press, 2021,
  • Deliberative Mini-Publics, Nicole Curato et al, Bristol University Press, 2021.

The books, to the extent the review reflects their contents, seem to largely cover well-trodden group. We again meet the standard “for” and “against” arguments regarding “deliberation” and allotted bodies. Those presented in the article are:

  • “[W]e should all exchange arguments before we reach the best collective decision, and that ideal lies at the heart of the deliberative conception of democracy.”
  • “[This is], some critics have argued, a hopeless ideal, founded on a naïve and unappealing understanding of politics, in which people do not have strong political convictions and would prefer consensual decisions over conflict.”
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Luebwick: How democratic is democratic innovation?

Patrick Luebwick, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Visiting Professor at the University of Ghent, critiques sortition in general and more specifically what may be called “the citizen assembly process”, i.e., the way allotted bodies are being employed nowadays within the existing power structure. Some excerpts are below. [The text seems to be an automatic translation of an original text in French(?) and contains some dubious phrases, which I tried to correct.]

Betting on direct civil democracy is not an innocent game

Belgium jumps on the bandwagon of democratic renewal. The elected representatives of the people increasingly seem to desire direct assistance through the insights and advice of ordinary citizens. There is a project under way in the German-speaking community where commissions drawn up by lot can provide input to Parliament. The federal government has just completed an online citizen survey inviting us to share ideas about the future of Belgium. The Vivaldi government itself also has a bill ready to allow bodies in which citizens selected by lot can engage in dialogue with each other, politicians, experts and civil society to formulate policy recommendations for state reform.

Various arguments are used to support these types of initiatives. Politicians present it as a good sign to increase political participation and citizen participation. Civic democracy as a means of bridging the gap with citizens and promoting democracy. Proponents often assume that citizen paintings drawn by lottery can speed up and improve political decision-making.

[However, the use of sortition relies on the idea that i]f we inform citizens adequately and allow them to reasonably discuss with each other, we can track down the will of the people. This assumption is problematic. First, the outcomes of the allotted body may reflect what citizens see after deliberation about a particular political topic. But the rest of the population may not be convinced. The use of citizens’ committees thus runs counter to the idea that democracy is a form of self-government. After all, the well-thought-out judgments made by allotted citizens do not match what the what the population thinks or wants. Democracy as autonomy is not served by a participatory shortcut that is taken over the heads of the majority of citizens. Rather, the strength of deliberative democracy lies in the attempt to involve the whole of society in political opinion and decision-making, particularly through open debate in the public sphere and through diverse civil society and civil society.
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Ned Crosby (1936-2022)

Saddened to learn of the death of Ned Crosby, founder of the Jefferson Center and creator of Citizens’ Juries. Crosby was one of the first to envision selection by lot playing an important role in modern democratic politics. I only saw him speak once, and I’m sorry never to have met him.

Further details can be found here: https://www.cndp.us/announcement-on-the-death-of-our-founder-ned-crosby/.

The Minnesota Star Tribune has a full obituary.

RIP, Ned.

Sortition on VSauce

VSauce is a popular YouTube channel. The channel, which has millions of subscribers, deals with “scientific, psychological, mathematical, and philosophical topics, as well as gaming, technology, popular culture, and other general interest subjects”.

In April 2021 the channel uploaded a 30-minute video called “The Future Of Reasoning”. The video is a bit of grab bag of ideas and topics, but the main message seems to be that in order to deal with global warming the human race (or the West, or the US) needs to improve the way in which it makes decisions, and that this improvement could involve relying on sortition. “Lottocracy” is presented and argued for starting about 26 minutes into the video and Aristotle is quoted about 28 minutes in. According to YouTube, the video has been watched 6.5 million times – quite a nice exposure to the idea of sortition.

Me talking about sortition on Joe Trippi’s program

I met Joe Trippi about a decade ago. I met him about a decade ago and was fascinated with his campaigning exploits — including taking Howard Dean from backmarker to presidential frontrunner in 2004. Many of the architects of the online campaigning that took Obama to the White House came from the Dean campaign that Joe engineered. You can hear him interviewed here as “the man who reinvented campaigning”.

Be that as it may, in this podcast, we talk a little about how, even back then, I had a more wary expectation of how social media would influence politics — though I didn’t predict the dystopia that it’s contributing to. I was also thinking about the way citizens’ juries could detox our politics. (Both of these things are expanded on in this essay.) Since Joe’s trying to save democracy from further degeneration, we talked about what citizens’ juries could contribute in our current dire times. The interview was recorded before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If you prefer an audio to the video above, you can find it here.

An excellent episode from That Trippi Show’s back book is this frightening interview with David Pepper.

1,000

The number 1,000 seems to have some kind of charm when it comes to allotted bodies. There is of course the G1000 – “a Belgian platform for democratic innovation” backed by the renown of David Van Reybrouck. But more generally, there is somehow the notion that 1,000 is a good size for an allotted body. Supposedly, 1,000 is how big a body has to be in order to be “representative”. This intuition may be to some extent reinforced by the fact that opinion polls often use (or claim to use) samples of a similar size. There is also the fact that when one is surrounded by 1,000 people there is a feeling of being in the presence of a crowd and one becomes an anonymous, insignificant point in that crowd – and maybe that seems to reflect what membership in a mass community is about.

In fact, the number 1,000 is completely arbitrary. Its use in opinion polling is rather coincidental, and there is certainly no reason to use it when allotting political bodies. Indeed, the feeling of being lost in a crowd of 1,000 people is a strong indication that 1,000 is too many.

As is generally the case when considering the design of allotted bodies (and when thinking about sortition on the whole) it is most fruitful to consider the issue of body size via the model of extending self-representation. For the decision-making body to make policy that represents the interests of the people, two things have to happen:

  1. The body has to be internally democratic. That is, there has to be an equality of political power within the body.
  2. The membership of body has to reflect the population in the sense that its values and world view match those of the population.

Those two conditions generate two conflicting considerations: since large groups of people tend to generate spontaneous inequalities within the group, the first condition implies that the size cannot be too large. The second condition implies that the makeup of the body has to be statistically representative, so that it should not be “too small”.
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Dikastic Thorubos

All the other powers are naturally in a man’s own control, but the power of speaking is blocked if there is opposition from the audience. Hear him as a scoundrel, bribe-taker, and as one who will say absolutely nothing true. (Dem. 19-340)

Cited in V. Bers, ‘Dikastic Thorubos’ in Crux: Essays Presented to G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, ed. P.A. Cartledge and F.D. Harvey (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 1985)

Recent outbursts of mud-slinging on this forum have implications for the design of sortition-based assemblies, especially if isegoria (equal speech) is the norm. This is the guiding principle of deliberative democracy, as it was in the Athenian democracy (unlike Sparta). However in both the ancient and modern cases only a tiny number of participants exercised the ho boulomenos (anyone who wishes) principle. It took some cojones to address the Athenian assembly and unpopular speakers were shouted down by the other participants (as we saw in the quote from Demosthenes). Whilst such prophylactics can work in direct democracies, large modern states resort to the exchange of insults between political parties, each one hoping to increase its share of the vote in elections. Jaw-jaw is certainly better than war-war, hence the fact that the illocutionary factions in the House of Commons are separated by two swords’ lengths.

The mud-slinging on this forum appears to be primarily between two “camps” — in the one corner Alex Kovner and Keith Sutherland and in the other Yoram Gat and Liam Jones. As Alex recently commented, the two groups appear to be “on different planets”, impervious to the (Habermasian) exchange of reasons.

There is no good reason to believe that a sortition-based assembly would be any different — especially if participation is voluntary, as this would attract those who like the sound of their own voice, which may or may not map to the voices of those in the target population that the randomly-selected group is intended to “describe”. This would suggest that ho boulomenos can do little to support the isegoria rights of the vast majority of citizens who fail to be included in the sortition.

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